"God Our Protector"
Having declared God as his Refuge and Fortress, the author of Psalm 91 now goes on to describe how God protects and shelters those who dwell in His Presence. He does this with four key statements; two referring to God's protection, and two pertaining to our response to Him.
1. "He Will Save You"
"Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence."
The first thing the writer wants to etch indelibly in our consciousness is the truth that God will save us! Note the word "surely" that underscores the truth. There is no question of its certainty, no doubt concerning its veracity! God will save the one who chooses to live in the sanctuary of God! But save us from what?
God will save us first from the "fowler's snare". Literally it means a bird trap. Now, whenever you come to an interpretation that does not make sense according to its normal meaning, it is reasonable to think that the author had a secondary meaning in mind. This occurs when writers use poetic or figurative language, such as metaphors, similes and hyperboles. Obviously he is using firgurative language here, but its meaning can still be deciphered. God will save us from being entrapped or entangled by an enemy, seen or unseen! You may not foresee that this entrapment is about to occur, but it doesn't escape the omniscient gaze of God ! You can be assured that when you live in God's secret place, He will deliver you from your enemies, visible or invisible!
God will also save us from the "deadly pestilence". Though this can be understood in its normal sense, even here, there may be a secondary meaning. God can and does save us from diseases and illness.
However, the question must be asked, "Does God's Protection mean Christians are immune from any and all harm?" I will address this in the Application section below.
2. "He Will Cover You"
"He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."
The second thing the writer wants us to know about God is that He covers those who are His. Here again the author uses figurative language to describe the divine protection. God is described as a giant bird, perhaps an eagle, who spreads His "wings" as a protective covering over those seeking refuge in Him.
I remember being amused by my Religion professor at the University of Hawaii who mocked the Christians in the class (I was not a Christian at the time, but later went back to share Christ with him after I became a Believer) by running back and forth on the stage while flapping his arms and squawking like a chicken to show how this Psalm described God. I am sure he understood the figurative language being used, but couldn't resist displaying his bias against Christians.
The writer goes on to specify that God's covering is actually His Faithfulness. "Faithfulness" refers to God's trustworthiness in keeping His word, as well as His veracity for He always speaks Truth. Interestingly, Paul uses this image when he writes about the "shield of faith". Though many interpret this to mean our faith in God, perhaps Paul intended to mean God's Faithfulness toward us!
3. "You Will Not Fear"
"You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you."
In verses 5-8 the writer shifts his focus to the Recipients. The first result for the Protected is Fearlessness. Of course! What is there to fear when living in the inner sanctum of the Omnipotent God? But note the four dangers that we need not fear.
The first two dangers are "the terror of night" and "the arrow that flies by day". The "terror" is not defined, but the word refers to any "object of dread or fear". It is the proverbial "boogeyman" who comes out of the dark to terrorize. Today's boogeyman may be the unknown threat of the terrorist or the weapons of destruction they unleash. A known threat, especially in the days of this writing was the flying arrow. Today, it's the bullet or missle. Whatever the threat, they cannot penetrate the defense of the Almighty.
The second two dangers reflect the biological threats we face. Interestingly, the word "pestilence" may refer to a "cattle disease", such as anthrax. But besides anthrax, there is an array of diseases that pose a threat to us today: from AIDS to Ebola to Small Pox. Sometimes the fear of these viruses is worse than the disease itself!
Finally, as a way of underscoring what has gone before, the writer summarizes his thoughts by stating that though thousands may fall around him, those in God's care will remain untouched!
4. "You Will Only Observe"
"You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked."
The second result is that they will only observe God's punishment, not experience it! I assure you, this is one case in which it is far better to be a spectator than a participant! But I am sure their observation will not be with joy, but with a deep gratitude for the grace of God and His undescribable mercy!
The question that must be addressed is this: Does God's Protection mean Christians are immune from every and any danger? That is what Psalm 91 seems to teach doesn't it. The answer is yes, and no.
First, "no", because there can be cited many examples of Godly people who have not escaped the dangers of this earthly life. Among them are the prophets of God, the Apostles of Christ, the apostle Paul, the church fathers of old, and the martyrs through the ages, including many who have given their lives for the sake of the Gospel in recent decades. Who can forget the 5 young missionaries who died on the banks of the Curarae. No one would doubt the godliness of a Jim Elliot.
Yet there can also be cited many instances of Believers experiencing miraculous protection from God. Biblical examples include Daniel and his three companions in Babylon, and the Israelites during their exodus out of Egypt.
My family and I have personally experienced God's protection. When we first arrived in Papua New Guinea, we were surprised to find that the average rent for a home was twice what our entire living expense was. There was one house that fit into our budget, and was even vacant, primarily because it had been broken in to (literally through the walls of the house) 13 times in the previous 12 months. No one wanted to live in it! Needless to say, we decided to live there trusting God to protect us. In the five years we stayed there, we experienced no break ins. When we had to vacate the house because the mission who owned the house needed it for their own missionaries, the break ins resumed. How do you explain that?
I am not sure anyone can explain why some Believers experience misfortune while others seem to be spared. But we must resist the temptation to conclude that trials result from sin in the Recipient's life. Scripture seems to indicate trials are actually a blessing from God as they develop preseverance! At best, we can conclude that God in His sovereignty dictates what happens in the lives of His children, working all things for the good of those who love Him!
But there is a sense in which we are completely immune to life's evils. By interpreting the figurative language of Psalm 91, the "fowler" in verse 3 represents Satan who seeks to ensnare God's children with sin and steal the freedom which is their's in Christ. The "pestilence" then represents sin and its affects, including death. Seen in this light, then truly God protects all His children from the deadly effects of Sin and, for those who live in God's Presence, the traps and schemes of Satan!
What we learn from Psalm 91:3-8 is that God protects those who are His. He will not allow any danger or threat into their lives except those filtered through His sovereign hand. But concerning the ultimate disease of sin, those who believe are eternally delivered from it's inevitable end. There is no death in the secret place of the Most High!
Yes, there are deadly threats confronting us daily. But these can only destroy our mortal bodies. Physical death for the Believer is simply an open door to Life everlasting in the Presence of God! How about you? Are you still afraid of the "terror of night" or are you experiencing the fearlessness that belongs to all who know Jesus Christ? Meditate upon the promises of Psalm 91:3-8, and claim them as your own. Memorize them and hide them in your heart in order that you might hide in the secret place of the Most High God!